What the stock market does on the first day of trading for the year may not matter. But if market continues to plunge that may signal a problem.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell another 400 points on Thursday. That caps a four-day run that puts the Dow down just over 5% in 2016, and makes this year the worst start for the market in at least 120 years, according to FactSet Research.
Here’s another way to illustrate that: Of the 30 stocks that make up the Dow, just one is up so far this year: Walmart (WMT). And Walmart was the only stock in the Dow that was up on Thursday as well. The giant retailer’s shares rose 2%, capping a four-day run that puts them up 6% for 2016. Every other stock in the Dow is down so far this year. The worst performing stock on Thursday was General Electric (GE). It was down 4.3%.
The one up and 29 down Dow highlights a trend that market strategists have been worried about lately. When the ratio of rising stocks to falling stocks (something people call market breath) turns negative, that can be a warning sign of a bear market. Charles Schwab strategist Liz Ann Sonders says the fact that the market is coming down with a case of halitosis is worrying.
What’s more, Walmart’s rise may not be all that remarkable given how much it was down last year. Walmart was the worst performing stock in the Dow in 2015, falling 28%. Investors have been worried about the fact that the retailer has been a laggard to e-commerce rival Amazon (AMZN). In October, Walmart announced that its sales were slowing. It also said necessary investments in its Internet strategy and the cost of giving workers raises would weigh on profits for the next two years.
There hasn’t been any new news that has lifted shares. Walmart’s holiday sales are still expected to be disappointing. The good thing that Walmart has going for it is the U.S. consumer. While lower oil prices are spooking the market, and sending signals that the global economy is either headed for a recession or a lot weaker than people think, U.S. consumers should benefit. What’s more, if the economy does turn south, investors could be betting that more people will shop at Walmart. Some investors may be betting on the “Dogs of the Dow”; the strategy of buying the prior year’s 10 worst-performing and highest-yielding Dow stocks outperformed the overall index by about 3% from 1957 to 2003, according to Investopedia, but has a more spotty track record in recent years.
Another stock that was up on Thursday was brewer Constellation Brands (STZ), which could be also be investors reaching for safety. Booze is generally considered recession proof. The company also reported on Thursday that profits in its latest quarter rose 22%.
Nonetheless, Walmart seems like a odd stock to be rallying on a day when the bulk of investors fears seem to be about problems with China and the world economy. Walmart gets about 30% of its sales from overseas, which is close to the average for S&P 500 companies in general.
But while the market dropped seem to be motivated by fears about China, investors in the U.S. seem to be running scared in general. Two of the worst performing sectors on Thursday were technology stocks and the finance sector, two sectors that don’t seem to be immediately impacted by China. Industrials, which are, were down as well.